Why keep dead bodies for long?
Recently somewhere in Anambra State a mortuary caught fire burning over hundred dead bodies kept there. The news made headlines that people began to wonder what could have led to that double tragedy, the one that late Music maestro Fela Anikulapo Kuti will dub “Double Wahala For Deadi bodi” Whatever could have been the cause of the inferno may be immaterial as the big question is why was the dead not buried when they were clinically pronounced dead. Investigations further revealed that some of the bodies in the mortuary have been there for six months to one year! Few days ago the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu came up with the report that the hospital mortuary is filled with dead bodies that their owners have abandoned. According to the report some of the dead bodies have been in the mortuary for Two to three years! It’s the situation report in most of the mortuaries in the country particularly in the South East!
Perhaps it’s sequel to that the Anambra State House of Assembly passed a law stipulating the number of weeks a dead person should be buried, the cost implications of burials and number of days of mourning in the state. The bill provides that in the event of death, no person shall deposit any corpse at the mortuary or any other place beyond two months from the date of demise, while burial ceremonies in the state shall be for one day. It further stipulates that during burial and funeral ceremonial activities, the family of the deceased shall provide food for their kindred, relatives and other sympathizers at their own discretion according to their pocket. The bill places ban on destruction of property, gun shots, praise singing, blocking of roads and streets during burial ceremony in the state as defaulters shall be punished according to the law. It made it clear that from the commencement of the law, no person shall subject any relation of the deceased person to a mourning period of more than one week from the date of burial ceremony.
This is a very good omen that every right thinking Nigerian should applaud. The law should not just end in Anambra State but should be replicated in the other states in the South East, South-South where this malady of keeping dead bodies for long periods and expending outrageously just to bury the dead is so rampant! In fact it may not be a bad idea if the law is taken to the National Assembly and made an all encompassing law for the country! This brings us to the question of where we learnt the culture of keeping the dead for a long time before committing them to mother earth. This culture so to say is more prevalent in the South East and South-South part of the country. But kudos must be given to the Northerners particularly those of the Moslem faith. Once one of their own is pronounced dead such a person is buried within 48 hours. There is no much fanfare. We have had cases where heads of state and Presidents were buried within 24 hours of their death.
Former head of State, General Sani Abacha who died while in office was buried within 24 hours. In fact he was buried the same day he was pronounced dead. Late President Umaru Yardua was also buried in the same manner. Just recently former President Shehu Shagari was buried the same day he died. In their own way no Much Ceremonies, fanfare and grandstanding is accorded to the dead. To buttress the emptiness of death most of their dead bodies are buried without coffins or expensive caskets. They simply wrap the bodies in a white cloth and Bury. That’s all!
Moving down to the Western world it’s almost the same thing. Once somebody dies it takes hours, days or in extreme cases one week and the person is buried. In some of their believe and culture they just burn off the dead body in what is known as cremation! This was depicted when former American President George Bush who died last year was buried within one week of his death. There was no much Ceremonies. Same thing happened when the iconic Nelson Mandela died some years ago. But that is not the case with my people in the South East. Once somebody dies it may take an average of one month before the person is buried. Some bad bellied uncles and relations see death as an opportunity to extract pounds of flesh from the children of the dead as outrageous requirements are placed for them before they could allow the burial of their person.
These days if a loved one dies there are two types of crying that are involved; one is on the loss of the person and the other one is on how and what in terms of resources that will be used in giving the person what is erroneously described as Befitting Burial. Some communities have made it so difficult that those who loose their loved ones pass through excruciating pain before they could bury them. First the community or village is to give approval date for the Burial. After that different groups and societies will start making demands on things to be done or performed before they can grant that Burial will be carried out. This normally involve presentation of long list of items to fulfilled. This list they are talking about is almost like the one being presented when somebody wants to marry! People that just lost a loved one are now subjected to another round of grieve on how to fulfil the requirements before they could bury their dead.
On the other hand some families make things difficult for themselves by trying to outdo others in the way and manner they bury their dead. Some will not bury until they have constructed new houses, renovated their compound. It does not matter that while the dead was alive he was living in a leaking house and dilapidated compound!
The cost of burying these days now runs into millions of Naira. All in the name of giving a Befitting Burial. The question being asked is what is Befitting in a Burial. This is because there is a saying that there is no gain or bragging in expenditure done on a loss which death occupies a prominent first position. The craze for Befitting Burials have now reached a feverish crescendo with new innovations employed. These days at Burials you wonder if it’s for fun fare or mourning of lost ones. High ranking musicians are now engaged. Burials are now contracted out to funeral houses and those I describe as merchants of death. Uniforms otherwise known as Aso Ebi are now sown just to commit the dead to mother earth!
The latest in town now is ‘discovery and launching” of brand new well furbished Coffin with Internet Facilities like Facebook, Twitter, instragram, WhatsApp. The asking price of the Coffin is put at N5 Million.At the end of the day if you put the total cost of burying somebody these days particularly in the South East it runs into millions of Naira!
Perhaps it’s as a result of this that some churches have made law that once their member dies, the person must be buried within a stipulated time. There is a church I know that states that a dead member must be buried within two weeks of the person’s death. Usually they give two weeks Grace for the family to bury the dead. Anything more than that the church will wash there hands off and will not participate in the Burial.
The worst of this hypocrisy is that the families of dead ones will try to do extra ordinary things that they never did while the person was alive. There are cases where the children of the deceased parents were living in thatched or leaking houses only for same children to insist on constructing brand new houses before the Burial. The Dead person may not be feeding fine or being taken care of while alive but on death such a person will be buried with very expensive casket, adorned in expensive apparels, cows Slaughtered, bags of rice cooked and assorted expensive drinks used for the Burial!
With this law enacted by Anambra State Government which I have recommended for other states to copy much burden will be reduced on the shoulders of the bereaved. Like pointed above perhaps if some of those in that burnt Anambra mortuary were buried immediately or after some days/weeks of their death the double tragedy that befell them may not have occurred. What is the essence of spending so much for the dead and for Burial Ceremonies when the person you are doing those things for is not alive to witness it. The money used in Burial should be directed to the living. There are lots of things to be done with such money expended on burials. In some situations children of the deceased that Befitting Burials was done for their parents drop out of school, suffer hunger and deprivation. Some sell their properties, procure and enter into serious debt just for them to bury their person!
The point must be stressed that one is not against celebrations of life for departed loved ones particularly those that have lived worthy and iconic life. This could come in form of endowment, establishment of foundations, annual Lectures and Colloquium. Money realised from such remembrance activities can be deployed to infrastructure development, help the living particularly the children and relatives of the departed. The Dead in their graves will be much appreciated and happy than expending much on frivolities in the name of according the dead a Befitting Burial! If our people will just discover now that there is no gain in frivolously expending huge sums of money in Burials, the better! Such monies can be deployed to the living and to provision of basic amenities and infrastructure for the country. A conservative estimate of amount used annually on Burial and Burial Ceremonies can help to do tangible things for the society! This craze must stop now!
Uche-Ejeke, publisher and Editor-in-chief Agenda Newspapers and public affairs analysts